A federal election has been called in Canada for September 20, 2021, amidst a pandemic and the fourth wave of COVID-19.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has declared a fourth wave of COVID-19, largely driven by the more transmissible Delta variant. Health and safety measures have been adopted by almost all countries running elections during the COVID-19 pandemic and most measures have been similar from country to country. Several provincial elections have been held throughout COVID-19 in Canada including in Nova Scotia, Yukon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and New Brunswick.
Most countries have employed two general intervention themes:
- Reduce congregation of in-person voters by increasing voting alternatives.
- Reduce transmission risk among in-person voters, poll workers, and other facility users (e.g., physical barriers and guides, health and sanitation measures, modified layout and procedures at polling facility, line management).
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, there has been little evidence linking voting arrangements with community transmission (as of February 2021), concluding that public health interventions before and on election day(s) were generally effective.
- Bill C-19 was passed in May of 2021 to amend the Canada Elections Act in response to COVID-19. This enactment provides temporary rules to ensure the safe administration of an election in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A survey commissioned by Elections Canada in 2020 found the majority (58%) of all voters would still opt to vote in-person at either a polling station on election day or at an Elections Canada office in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic environment.
Despite the drop in public health restrictions by many jurisdictions in Canada, the likelihood of high numbers of in-person voters during a fourth wave of COVID-19 warrants stringent public safety measures during the administration of the federal election.
- Encourage alternative options to in-person voting such as voting by mail.
- Provide an education and outreach campaign (e.g., print and broadcast media, public service announcements and social media) to address the potential lack of information about how to vote by mail.
- Target voter education to senior citizens or first-time voters who may require more assistance in the process of mail in voting.
- Ensure polling stations are located in well-ventilated buildings.
- If polling stations are located in public schools, allow children to stay home from school.
- Ensure voters move in one direction (one set of entry and exit doors).
- Increase outdoor queuing (weather permitting) and offer curbside voting or priority queues for vulnerable individuals.
- Encourage early voting and extend voting hours during the day.
- Encourage voters to wear face masks, ensure two meters minimum distance between voters, encourage hand sanitization and sanitize polling stations every half hour.